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Mississippi health advocates work to improve Hispanic COVID-19 vaccination rate

Published: Nov. 21, 2021 at 5:22 PM CST
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To read this story in Spanish, click here.

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Sunday was the first full day without a COVID-19 State of Emergency in Mississippi.

Gov. Tate Reeves said that after more than three million vaccinations, manageable cases and hospitalizations, the State of Emergency did not have to be renewed. However, some communities in the state still struggle with getting adequate health care and information almost two years into the pandemic

A cool fall afternoon at West Side Park was the perfect weather for a COVID-19 talk with Dr. Nelson Atehortua De la Pena. The JSU Assistant Professor of Public Health traveled from Jackson, MS to be a part of Magnolia Medical Foundation’s Educational Event for Spanish-speakers.

“We’re trying to explain in a way they can understand,” Atehortua De la Pena said.

Q&A sessions like this have been a regular thing for the doctor. He has traveled across the state to do in-person conversations with the hope of better guiding the state’s Hispanic community through the pandemic.

“We can help demystify some of the information that has been circulating,” he said.

That job has become harder for health advocates with so many rumors on social media and through word of mouth.

“There are so many myths and beliefs that aren’t true,” Magnolia Medical Foundation Project Director Mireya Alexander said.

Alexander is one of many experts that believe misinformation is the main reason why Hispanics have a 39.3% vaccination rate in the state - one of the lowest among ethnic groups. In comparison, Asian Mississippians have a 73.9% vaccination rate, Black Mississippians have a 44.6% rate and white Mississippians have a 42.7% rate.

“That’s too low. Too many people not vaccinated,” Atehortua De la Pena said.

Battling false information has been a top priority for advocates throughout the pandemic, but they also say that more needs to be done to get non-English speakers the help they need.

“That’s one challenge, the language barriers,” Atehortua De la Pena said.

It’s been an issue that agencies across the state have dealt with including the Magnolia Health Foundation.

“We are educating people. We are helping them understand,” Alexander said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Spanish-speaking staff has made sure to accommodate as many Hispanic patients as possible, whether it be with COVID tests, vaccines and even online help with appointments and applications.

“Some of them don’t know how to use the internet easily,” Alexander said.

Advocates say bridging the health care gap in minority communities is the only way we can truly get out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fate of the pandemic depends on us, each and every one of us,” Alexander said.

Para obtener información sobre COVID-19 en español, visite el sitio web del Departamento de Salud de Mississippi.

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